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"Ma'am, I need you to move away from the counter and keep your hands where I can see them."
Damn. That didn't sound good.
Standing in a dim patch of light a foot away from the horseshoe-shaped bar, Kelsey Reagan slowly turned toward the deep, commanding voice.
As she did, her gaze slid over the tall man walking into the empty room. A blue T-shirt clung to his broad shoulders and he wore snug, dark blue jeans. Military-short black hair, granite features and icy-blue eyes completed the picture. All in all, a completely hum-worthy package.
She rolled her eyes. God, she really needed to get a grip. One look at a pretty face and she totally lost focus. She wasn't here to enjoy the sceneryas nice as it was. She was here to see Dillon.
Besides, gorgeous or not, this guy was so not her type. Even though he wore normal clothes instead of some god-awful uniform, Kelsey instinctively knew what he was. The authority in his voice, the way he seemed to size her up within seconds of looking at her, and his rigid, ready-for-anything posture told her he was a cop through and through.
Mostly it was the confident, I'm legally entitled to carry a gun and, yes, I will shoot you if you piss me off, tilt of his chin that gave him away.
"I'm with the Serenity Springs Police Department," the cop said in a grave tone as he fished something out of his back pocket.
Kelsey sighed. She'd done it again. Wrong place. Wrong time. Her official, unofficial motto.
She should have it tattooed on her ass.
Except this was the right place. The Summit Bar of Serenity Springs, New York. As for the time well considering how long she'd waited to see Dillon again, and how desperate she was to make amends with him, it was the right time. It had to be.
She waved her hand at the shiny silver shield the cop held up for her inspection. "You can put the tin star away. I already pegged you as a cop."
He pocketed his badge, his gaze intense as he studied her. "Ma'am," he said evenly, "this establishment is closed."
She rolled her eyes again at him calling her ma'am. At twenty-seven, she was a good eight years away from official membership in the Ma'am Club.
"Okay, I realize this " She trailed off as she took in the scarred tables and chairs, walls discolored from years of cigarette smoke and the ancient linoleum floor. Establishment? Who was he kidding? This place was a dump, pure and simple. "I know this bar is closed, but I figured there must be someone here."
"What, exactly, led you to that conclusion?"
"Because when I knocked, the door practically swung open."
He raised one dark eyebrow. She pursed her lips. Shoot.
Looked like she was digging herself deeper and deeper into a hole.
She should've waited outside for Dillon instead of letting herself into the bar, especially once she realized the place was empty. But she'd been so excited to finally see him again and afraid he'd take off if he spotted her in the parking lot.
Probably not the smartest move. Then again, she wasn't exactly noted for her decision-making skills.
She ran the tip of her tongue over her dry lips and saw the cop follow the movement. Noticed a small, but real, flare of awareness.
She narrowed her eyes. Seemed to be a spark of life beneath this guy's steely exterior after all. Maybe she could still wriggle her way out of this mess.
She hated to brag, but she was a damn good wriggler. And while she'd done her best to avoid any contact with the police in the past ten years, wriggling with this particular cop wouldn't be too much of a hardship.
She attempted a smile. "Look, Officer"
"Actually it's chief. Chief Jack Martin."
Her grin slid away. Of course he was the chief. Because no way could she be lucky enough to get busted by a lowly traffic cop or something.
She tried again. "Chief Martin, my name is Kelsey Reagan and I don't know what you think"
"What I think," he interrupted smoothly, "is that you're trespassing on this property. You could be looking at breaking-and-entering charges."
Her stomach fell to rest somewhere in the vicinity of her big toe.
"Hey, whoa, back up the paddy wagon there, Sheriff. This is all a big misunderstanding." She worked to keep her voice light and steady and prayed she projected the right combination of honesty and innocence. Sort of like a Girl Scout. They were all about honesty and innocence, right? Which probably explained why she'd never been one. "I didn't break in here. Not really."
"How do you not really break in to a place?"
"Like I said, the door wasn't locked and"
"Do you always walk into a building simply because the door's not locked?"
She fought her growing irritation. "What I'm saying is that I'd hoped someone was here so I knocked, several times, and when no one answered"
"You let yourself in," he finished for her. "Despite the Closed sign on the door."
"I didn't come inside to steal anything. I'm actually looking for someone who works here."
"That so? And who would that be?"
"Dillon Ward." She bit the inside of her lip. "Maybe you know him?"
He didn't so much as blink. Kelsey blew out an exasperated breath. Didn't everyone know everyone in a small town? But there was no flash of recognition in the cop's eyes.
"Look," she said, setting her purse on the bar, "I have a picture of him in here, maybe you could"
"Hold up." Chief Martin closed the distance between them in two long strides, picked up her purse and dumped it on the bar out of her reach.
Her mouth fell open. "What was that for?"
"A precautionary measure."
"For what?" Then realization dawned on her and she wasn't sure if she was amused or offended. "You worried I have a gun in there? Sorry to disappoint, but I left my Uzi in my evening bag."
Ignoring her, he finally stepped back and nodded toward her scattered belongings. "Go ahead."
She started to speak, then decided against it and dutifully pulled her wallet out of the mess and flipped it open. She took out the ten-year-old picture of Dillon and handed it to the cop but couldn't stop herself from asking, "You always such a tight ass? Or is this just my lucky day?"
"Just doing my job, ma'am." He glanced at the picture.
"What's your business with Mr. Ward?"
Kelsey cleared her throat. "It's personal."
He handed the picture back to her. "We've had several burglaries and instances of break-ins resulting in destruction of property over the past two months and"
"I hate to burst your bubble," she said as she tossed her stuff back into her purse, "but I've only been in town an hour. Any destruction to this property was done long before I arrivedmaybe even before I was born. Besides, what am I supposed to steal? Plastic sip straws?"
She snapped her purse shut, raised her head and bit back a yelp of surprise. Chief Martin had stepped closer, his large body now looming over her. In an instinctive attempt to put some distance between them, Kelsey shuffled back and found herself pressed against the bar.
Her heart galloping in her chest, she straightened and forced herself to maintain eye contact. Cops were like wild dogs hostile, arrogant, downright meanand they ran in packs. The police department in her hometown had rallied around her abusive stepfather for years, simply because he was one of them.
She also knew if you showed them the slightest hint of fear, they'd gobble you up before you could say "kibble."
"I wasn't accusing you of any wrongdoing, ma'am," he said in that annoyingly calm, emotionless voice of his. "I was simply explaining the reasons behind my actions."
"Oh." Kelsey swallowed and berated herself for attempting to antagonize him. "Sorry. It's just that you I mean cops make me nervous," she blurted, her face heating.
His expression didn't change. Did the man ever blink? "I take it you've had your share of run-ins with the police?"
"You could take it that way."
Way more than she was comfortable withstarting with her first arrest at age ten for shoplifting. During the next five years she'd been busted for almost everything including underage drinking and vandalism to resisting arrest. And each time, when her stepfatherGlennfound out about the trouble she'd gotten into, she usually ended up with a few bruises as part of her punishment.
"Seeing as how the owner isn't here, and taking into account the break-ins, why don't I just wait with you until Mr. Ward arrives?"
Kelsey crossed her arms. Just once she'd like real life to go according to her plans. Nowhere in her itinerary for the day did she have hang with a cop penciled in.
It grated to admit that even after all these years, cops still made her nervous. And she still didn't trust a one of them.
She shook her head. "That's not really necessary"
"I insist," he said, his steady blue eyes meeting hers. She tried to tell herself her unsettled stomach was caused by nerves but even she wasn't that good a liar. Okay, she really did not need her previously dormant hormones to surge to life. Not now. And especially not with a cop.
"You know," she said, ignoring the unsteadiness in her voice, "maybe I should just wait in my car. Then we can chalk this whole episode up to one big misunderstanding."
She wasn't sure, but she could've sworn his lips twitched. "But this episode was just getting interesting," he said dryly.
Yeah. That's what she was afraid of. "Besides," he continued, "you never explained what your personal business with Mr. Ward happens to be. Is he your husband? Boyfriend?"
She shook her head. "No. He's my brother."
HER BROTHER? He hadn't seen that one coming.
She didn't look much like the broad-shouldered, dark-haired Ward. Jack took in Kelsey Reagan's slim legs, subtly curved hips and the tight black T-shirt hugging her small, round breasts. And was that a tattoo peeking over the waist-band of her low-slung jeans?
His mouth grew dry at the idea of finding out, and he frowned. Focus, Martin.
He stole a quick look at her left ring finger. "Is Reagan your married name?"
"I'm not married."
She raised both eyebrows. "Nosey, aren't you?" Warmth crept up his neck but he merely shrugged. "Just curious."
"If you must know, Dillon is my half brother. Different fathers."
"And, as Mr. Ward's sister, you thought illegal entry was a good idea?"
She sighed. "You're just not going to let that go, are you?"
"I'm just doing"
"I know, I know. You're doing your job. I get it, okay? Just lay off the ma'ams," she said as Jack's sister Allie walked through the front door, "or else I might give you a reason to haul out those handcuffs you're obviously dying to use."
"Hey," Allie called, curiosity clear on her face, "what's going on?"
Ignoring his sisterand Kelsey's loaded statement about him wanting to cuff herJack kept his gaze on the redhead. She reminded him of those modern art paintings his daughter had been fascinated with at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few months back. The sharp lines of Kelsey's face shouldn't have worked with her high cheekbones and narrow nose. But they did. In fact, her unique features made her face all the more interesting.
He frowned. He found her interesting in a totally professional way, he assured himself, nothing more.
"I need to speak to the building's owner for a minute," he said, stepping back. But it wasn't far enough away to avoid her light, citrusy scent. "Why don't you have a seat?"
Her emerald-green eyes narrowed. "I'll stand." Intrigued by her stubbornness, he kept his mouth shut and walked over to where Allie stood, halfway into the bar.
"What's going on? I thought you had the day off," Allie said softly. She set two plastic grocery bags on a table, looking from him to the redhead and back again. "Who's that?"
"I am off duty." Jack turned so both the redhead and the exits were within his sight. "I came over to see if you wanted to have lunch."
"You mean you came over to see if I'd cook you lunch." He almost grinned. "Only if you insist."
Allie cuffed him on the shoulder. "That still doesn't answer my second question. Who is she?"
"Says her name is Kelsey Reagan. Ring any bells?" Allie glanced at Kelsey again. "No. Should it?"
"I just figured since you and Ward are such good buddies, you'd know the name of his sister."
Allie's eyes widened. "You're telling me this Kelsey "
"Reagan," he supplied. "Kelsey Reagan is Dillon's sister?" At Jack's nod, she continued, "He's never mentioned her. Not to me, anyway."
Jack didn't miss the surprise on Allie's face. Ever since Ward, the ex-con-turned-carpenter, started renovating The Summit, rumors had spread around town that he and Allie were lovers. But if that was true, surely she'd recognize the name of Kelsey Reagan.
Not that Jack believed the gossip. And not just because he didn't want Allie involved with someone with Ward's less-than-desirable background. No, he based his conclusions on the only thing he could count on. Cold hard facts.
While Allie had never bothered to deny or confirm it, the few times Jack had been around the two of them, he'd seen nothing to indicate their relationship was anything other than friendship. There were no long looks. No subtle brushing of hands. No sparks.
Nothing even remotely close to the flash that had, briefly, arced between Jack and Kelsey a few minutes ago.
He rubbed a hand over his face. "Upon entering the premises, I discovered Miss Reagan inside. She claims the door was unlocked"